This year’s Leibniz Start-up Prize goes to a team of scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT). With their business idea of a modular optical construction kit, high-performance microscopes can be designed for a wide range of applications and converted into imaging instruments for examining the smallest details. The prize money of 25,000 euros supports the start-up phase from the Jena institute into an independent technology company.

Tailoring efficient microscopic systems simply and in just a few steps – this is the goal of the optical construction kit openUC2 (You. See. Too). Dr. Benedict Diederich, René Lachmann and Barbora Maršíková from the Leibniz IPHT were able to convince the jury of the Leibniz Association’s Start-up Prize with their modular concept, which allows optical tools to be created in the blink of an eye, tailored to the respective research question.

OpenUC2: Microscopy toolbox for a wide range of applications

The openUC2 toolbox combines various optical components for imaging – from lenses and LEDs to mirrors, filters and objectives. Researchers in education or science can use it to quickly and inexpensively assemble optical instruments to analyze the smallest structures microscopically. The image quality is comparable to that of commercially available and often cost-intensive optical solutions.

The various cube-shaped modules of the versatile openUC2 microscopy kit can be 3D printed and equipped with different optical components, enabling uncomplicated extensions and modifications of the kit. With the openUC2 system, high-performance microscopes can thus be constructed easily and affordably to precisely fit the respective object of investigation or application. By cleverly combining the modular components and adding optical components, they can be converted into further imaging solutions in a short time.

The microscopic instruments realized are not only mobile, but also space-saving and can be used even in smaller laboratory and experimental environments. In incubators, for example, the openUC2 system can be used to monitor the development of cell cultures under the microscope over a long period of time.

The open source principle of the openUC2 system is another special feature: Building instructions and documentation for the realization of effective imaging microscopic solutions are published on the online platform GitHub. They are freely available to users of openUC2. At the same time, user feedback supports the further optimization of the toolbox.

Spin-off from Leibniz IPHT

The business idea of the optical construction kit openUC2 will be continued in an independent technology start-up in 2022. As a first step, openUC2 will enter the market after its spin-off from Leibniz IPHT with an experimental box („miniBOX“), which, with modules such as lenses, mirrors, objectives and sample holders, is immediately ready for use for various experimental setups and is particularly suitable for applications in the field of education. This will allow modern microscopy and imaging to be experienced experimentally in school lessons for pupils as well as for those interested in optics. The „miniBOX“ is expected to be available in the fourth quarter of 2022. In a second step, based on additional optical module components, it is planned to launch more complex offerings in the form of modular high-tech microscopes for education in laboratories and universities as well as for research and development.

„The award of the Leibniz Start-up Prize offers us the unique opportunity to realize our idea of a modular microscopy kit, with which every user can individually construct his or her own imaging instrument, and to translate it into user-friendly instruments, which is a great acknowledgment of our work to date. In this way, we are opening up easy access to the world of optics and microscopy to a broad public,“ explains founder René Lachmann, who developed the openUC2 business idea together with Barbora Maršíková and Dr. Benedict Diederich from the Microscopy Department at Leibniz IPHT.

About the Leibniz Start-up Prize

The Leibniz Association’s Start-up Prize supports spin-off projects from Leibniz institutes in the founding period. The prize money of 50,000 euros is earmarked and can be used for support services in the review and practical implementation of business concepts, in particular for challenges such as market entry, obtaining financing or developing marketing and sales concepts. The award is decided by a Leibniz Association prize jury consisting of internal and external members. Further information on the Leibniz Start-up Prize.

This year’s first place is shared by the openUC2 team from Leibniz IPHT and PROSION GmbH, a spin-off of the Leibniz Research Institute for Molecular Pharmacology, for their work on molecular building blocks for pharmaceutical drug development.